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Taking a Crack at Illumination

modern illuminated proj
If I were to say that I found the nerve to start this project from my inspiration and self-study, I’d be fibbing. When I caught my first glimpse at illuminated lettering in a new calligraphy book, I couldn’t wrap my head around sitting down to try it on my own. So, guess what? As usual, it took my art class to force me out of my “scary zone”.

Illuminating letters can be serious, scary stuff for a newbie. Most calligraphy books that touch on the subject, display artists working with paints, inks, gold leaf and gesso. That can be very intimidating. And, unless a newbie is truly enthusiastic about illuminated lettering, she’ll balk at its complexity and move on.

But, illuminating letters doesn’t always have to be “scary”. Actually, artists can create illuminated letters simply designing them with a few colors or covering them in complex drawings that’ll usually make a novice’s head spin.

Illuminated manuscripts gained popularity in the 7th century to document stories and events in the era. Calligraphers use the term to describe brightly colored pages highlighted in gold. The illuminated letter is meant to attract the eye to the page with various designs and colors among dark, gothic-style lettering.

When I finally practiced this letter, I grew fascinated with its versatility. Creating large letters with an endless supply of colors and design varieties brought hours of fun and experimenting with paint. But, I most enjoyed working with the gold gouache.

The gold goauche lit up the page making it look fairly similar to the ancient manuscripts I tried to emulate.

Any calligraphers ready to try illumination don’t need to start on a full-size project like I did (see photo above). Try one letter first, like an initial. It’s much easier to get acquainted with illumination with a small project and, then gradually build onto it with a favorite gothic-style lettering for a simulated manuscript like mine.

Note: All images are copyright and must not be used without permission

Why I Dropped My Parallel Pen

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I could write beautifully with a broad-edge nib until recently.

Of course, Parallel Pens gave me the courage to write italics regularly and easily with its stationary broad-edge tip, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about lettering with a dip pen and a removable broad-edge nib.

As much as I love Parallel Pens, I’ve become equally smitten with the Brause nibs and growing fond of the Speedball C-series nibs with every use.

But, I wasn’t always this happy practicing with the broad edge nib.

Early in my calligraphy practice, I fumbled recklessly with calligraphy markers and refillable ink pens. I hopelessly tried the Speedball nibs, but loss interest quickly because I had no idea what I was doing.

Throughout the pain and frustration of creating horribly designed letters, I missed out on opportunities to practice a larger variety of broad lettering styles other than traditional italics, like Gothicized italics or Blackletter.

Naturally, I chickened out and stuck with the basics for nearly a year.

In the interim, something exciting happened in my calligraphy discovery. I realized how much my lettering improved with pointed pen nibs. After the initial struggle with learning how to properly adjust the amount of ink for the dip pen, I felt comfortable enough to tackle nibs such as: Hunt 22, Esterbrook 356 and Nikko G.

With my new found skill, it only seemed fair to give the Speedball nibs another try, and to my surprise, it ended with a delightful result.

Recently, when I practiced Gothicized italics for the first time, I pulled out my trusty Parallel Pen for lettering with less hassle. Then, I noticed a classmate lettering with the dip pen and nib, which encouraged me to desert my pen for a moment and test the Speedball nib again.

Immediately, I noticed how easily this nib achieved a traditional letter with extreme thick to thin lines adding an elegant flair to capital and lower case letters that’s significant for the Gothicized italic hand.

Although it’s easy to love broad edge pens for italic lettering, the detachable dip pen nib offered a greater writing versatility than the Parallel Pens could accomplish for this letter, so I found a good reason to drop my dependency on the Parallel Pen.

Now I work easily between the two style pens (as needed) which makes calligraphy much more fun!

What about Chinese Calligraphy?

Chinese calligraphy certainly isn’t like the American and European handwriting I’ve come to respect over the decades. But, as an artist, I’m in awe of every stroke it takes to create Chinese characters.

Throughout the years, I’ve admired the dark, heavy strokes twisted and altered into intriguing designs on tattoos, tapestries, rubber stamps, paintings, and clothing without any notion what the characters meant.  Before my passion for calligraphic arts grew, I think I’ve been exposed to countless examples of Chinese calligraphy without realizing its form and beauty.

Now that’s it’s caught some serious attention from me-I wonder-am I ready for such a challenging art? Well, I guess anything’s possible.

Like American and European calligraphy, Chinese handwriting was originally designed to create uniformity across China for all personal and business communications.

In fact, Chinese calligraphy originated around the 2nd to 4th centuries and then it was memorialized in theoretical books to transfer the handwriting to later generations. Eventually, this writing gained popularity with additional countries across the Orient, such as Korea, Japan and Singapore, for art pieces and paintings, which developed a strong American appreciation over decades.

Within the past year, I’ve practiced calligraphy styles like italics, uncial, Copperplate, and Spencerian, but Chinese calligraphy piqued my interest over the summer. So, I checked into it and discovered some great ways to start. In my research, I found several video demos and online courses to aide in transferring my current calligraphy skill into practicing beautiful Chinese handwriting.

While checking for “how-to” videos, I stumbled across a couple of Chinese calligraphy video demonstrations and I watched in awe as the artists transformed each piece into a fabulous work of art, no matter what tool they were using. Immediately, I wondered how long it would take a novice (like me) to learn.

In one video, the artist used a simple brush on paper. In the second video, a calligrapher dipped a mop into a large bucket of ink drawing heavy dark strokes on a large piece of paper stretched across the floor.

Both Chinese artists created steady, yet focused strokes and lines while earning my full respect.

Shortly after the demonstrations, I was humbled. As much as I enjoy a good calligraphy challenge, I quickly changed my mind about practicing this fine art solo at this stage in my calligraphy skill. But, I do plan to give it a try in the future.

For now, I suggest seasoned calligraphers or extremely daring novices try their skill with this interesting art for a new project or challenge.

If you want to learn Chinese calligraphy, take full advantage of the resources on the web. To find out more visit this site for additional links to online courses.

Photo credit

Copperplate Handwriting: Considering a Classic

What can I say about Copperplate handwriting? Well, for starters…it’s the most romantic, yet dramatic lettering, I’ve ever seen. Its flamboyant flourishing grabs the eye and steals your heart thinking about the time it took to create such a lovely word or line. Classic and dainty, it’s no wonder brides around the world consider it a “must-have”. I call the Copperplate hand “the letters of love”.

The ornate, delicate design looks like loads of love went into writing this hand. You certainly can’t scribble out a name in two seconds and get it to look graceful. Maybe that’s why Copperplate is synonymous for formal occasions, especially weddings.

A few years ago when I started my calligraphy journey, my original exposure to this art stemmed from a friend’s impending wedding and Copperplate writing became my ultimate goal. I’ve been hooked to calligraphy ever since.

As you develop your own calligraphy journey, add Copperplate handwriting to your list for hands to learn. It’s a beautiful and challenging art; you’ll take pride in learning.
                                                                                                                               

What is Copperplate?          

Copperplate is a cursive handwriting developed in England, which spread quickly throughout the English speaking world around the 18th century. The lettering is characterized by looping majuscules (upper case letters) and minuscules (lower case letters), which are usually written with decorative flourishes.

Unlike Italic or Roman hands, Copperplate handwriting requires a 55 degree slope and they’re normally linked together since the release of the 1770 copy manual by John Sealy called “The Running Hand”. Although it’s an ornate and fancy letter, Copperplate started out with bolder lines for business use called “Round hand”. It’s counterpart we know and love today, offers lighter, narrower lines called “Italian” or “ladies” hand, which we use today for commercial and personal art.

When did it start?

Copperplate writing originated in the 16th century and grew in popularity in England around the 18th century. When Copperplate started, Americans wrote with feather quills to dip in ink for document preparation. Later, dip pens with sharp flexible nibs became popular.

Creating the slim, delicate lines and loops of the Copperplate letters worked better than the heavier nibs, which is common for the Italic hand. After the inception of the Declaration of Independence, the Americans used Copperplate handwriting for business and personal use until other hands like Spencerian prevailed in schools around the latter part of the 19th century.

What to use?

For most hand lettering, ink reigns. On the other hand, if you’re working with lightweight invitations or envelopes, depending on the grade of it, it might cause trouble. Certain paper grades (or weights) are too light to handle average calligraphy inks, so go with paints, like gouache. Gouache is versatile and fun for artists who don’t mind the added preparation for mixing paint (with distilled water) and placing it on the nib.

Although black and white inks offer dramatic and formal appeal, brides these days prefer color to matching wedding announcements with a specific theme.

Who should try Copperplate?

Any artist interested in learning Copperplate can do it. But, it’s not something you can master in one day. Whatever your skill level, dedicate yourself to practicing consistently to master this hand with confidence.

In my experience, I found classroom instruction worked better compared to using a practice manual. Unlike the italic hand, it’s not easy to learn Copperplate alone because you need to know where to place the thin and thick lines that characterize a proper Copperplate hand. And, believe me, class instruction helps, but frustration still reared its ugly head with me.

If you’re an extreme newbie to calligraphy, prepare yourself with mounds of patience and dedication. For the moderate artists with minor exposure to lettering, you’ll find Copperplate a joyful challenge.

Have you tried Copperplate writing before? If so, what was your initial experience like?

5 Things to Do When You’re Not Practicing Calligraphy

pen and paper Pictures, Images and Photos
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Over a three year span, I’ve become very familiar and comfortable with the folding chair that’s tucked away in the corner of the family room. It’s my art station where creativity happens and stress melts away. Well…most stress, anyway.

When I started blogging about calligraphy, the weekly topics surfaced easily (thanks to my classroom experiences). Then, summer arrived leaving me with the assumption that I needed to practice calligraphy every day or at least every week to generate new ideas.

Some days, it’s like magic and ideas would come to me at a furious pace. On other days, I’d struggle with topics, especially if I missed a week of practice.

Anxious and worrisome, I think: What will I write about? Will it be interesting? Then, I let myself off the hook. Professional calligraphers must take breaks from calligraphy, so why shouldn’t I?

I remind myself that I’m not committed to writing only about calligraphy unless I want to. This is my journey into an art form that’s much more than just making pen strokes on a piece of paper.

If you’re devoted to regular calligraphy practice and find yourself in a rut, take off a week or two to discover how these breaks offers productive treats and open new creative doors for your future calligraphy projects. Unwind from your usual lettering routine with the following tips:

Gather photos for scrapbooking

Relive old memories and make a special scrapbook page. Although scrapbooking takes time and planning, there’s no need to tackle a whole album at once. Check your art supplies or visit the craft store for a colorful and interesting background page that inspires your favorite photo or collection. Finish the page with your own handwritten letters, instead of computer-generated fonts.

 Take a card making workshop

Grabbing a colorful piece of card stock and adding rubber stamp designs or appliqués provide punch and a personal touch. Blend whimsical or elegant hand-lettering and turn your card making experiment into an example of friendship and love for a special family member or friend.

Brush up on watercolors

Pick up your paint brush and make a splash with watercolors. Relax at the park or in your own garden for inspiration. Watercolor subjects like flowers, shrubs or birds. Don’t worry about painting perfectly…you’re practicing for a potential project.

Doodle away on paper

Take your pencil to paper and draw whatever comes to mind. Or, sketch a natural and earthy object like a leaf in your yard or a shell from your beach visit. Eventually, your doodle drawings will spark your imagination and you’ll create something beautifully unexpected.

Check out an art book at the library or bookstore.

If it’s difficult to determine where to start, let books inspire your creativity. Browse the art section in the bookstore or library and flip through the pages. Expand your arts and crafts knowledge to pique your interests in other areas like ceramics, drawing, jewelry-making, or photography. Let another artist’s work arouse your imagination.

What do you do when you’re not practicing calligraphy?

6 Simple Ways to Care for Your Calligraphy Nibs


I’m guilty. Yes, guilty of being a lazy artist and ruining more calligraphy nibs than I can count. At first, I gave myself the benefit of the doubt because of ignorance, but shortly after receiving advice on how to care for my calligraphy nibs, I no longer had an excuse.

Like anything I start, the nibs received special care with proper cleaning and storage. Then laziness set in. With every project, I began with good intentions to return to my desk to complete it, only to leave my nibs resting overnight with dried ink or paint.

After allowing a few nibs to dry this way, I discovered that my nibs were no longer the same and my lettering became inadequate with each stroke. That’s when I decided to change my naughty habits.

Several months of experience and a few pointers from my calligraphy classmates helped me save a few nibs. If you’d like to avoid replacing nibs on a regular basis, check out the advice below for ways to protect your calligraphy nibs with everyday household items.

Save your old toothbrushes. These are great tools for cleaning your nibs gently and getting in between the crevices.

Locate your baking soda. For a low cost, natural cleanser, mix about a teaspoon of baking soda and ½ teaspoon of distilled water to clean your nibs. If you have a small tube of toothpaste with baking soda and peroxide, it works well for cleaning the nibs without the hassle of mixing.

Rinse and dry your nibs completely. After each use, it’s imperative that you rinse your nibs with soft water or distilled water to protect them from drying mediums. To avoid rusting, dry the nibs well with a soft lint free cloth.

Store your nibs separately. Choose a plastic container for your nibs or make sure they have their own special slot to avoid contact with heavier tools and supplies in your art box.

Cover your nibs. If you’re working on a large job or project don’t hassle with removing the nib from the penholder every time. Just clean as usual and cover them with cut up drinking straws. Cut one drinking straw about an inch to an inch and half to cover the entire nib, which protects it from dust, bending from a fall, or contact with another item.

Use recommended paint and ink only. Check with your art store or calligraphy instructor if you plan to use a medium other than usual standard calligraphy ink, gouache or watercolors. Some inks or paints might be too harsh or heavy for your nibs and cause the medium to flow poorly.

Take good care of your nibs and they’ll take good care of you and your project. You’ll constantly create smooth letters without having to spend a fortune on replacing nibs unless you want to.

Ditch Those Boring ABC’s: 4 Simple Tips to Practice a New Style

 

Whenever I sit down to my art desk to practice calligraphy, I’m never sure where I’ll start first. I go into it knowing that I want to practice a letter I haven’t tried in a while. Unfortunately, the same nagging questions run through my mind. What letters will I practice tonight? Should I practice the alphabet again? If so, should I try the lower case, upper case or both?

I usually fidget around with my iPod, looking for a good playlist, sorting through pen holders and nibs, and doting over the right paper to use until inspiration strikes.

Occasionally, I choose from a list of quotes provided by my calligraphy class to change things up. It helps to write in the upper and lower case in regular sentence form. But, I’ve grown tired of the same quote lists and discovered different ways to practice a new letter without passing out from sheer boredom.

Of course, as artists, we shouldn’t agonize over reinforcing our skill. Calligraphy is fun and relaxing. So, let’s drop those ABC’s for awhile and expand calligraphy practice with these following tips:

  • Check your address book with names of family members and friends and practice writing the names with formally, like Mr. and Mrs. Robert Brown, instead of Robert and Michelle Brown.
  • Grab your favorite song lyrics from a CD or check Google and enter lyrics for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. It brings up the title and song, so you can practice your favorite verse or the entire song.
  • Purchase a book of quotes. You’ll have an endless resource for practice and possibly for a future project. If you have favorite quotes, keep them readily available to pull out for a practice session, so you’ll void using the alphabet. The quotes help you use both upper and lower case letters.
  • Use your favorite bible verse. The book of Psalms offers inspirational verses that make great lines for cards and keepsakes.

Next time you prepare to practice calligraphy, you’ll have no excuse to simply turn to your ABC’s. Break up the monotony and try the suggested ideas. Happy lettering!

What form do you use for warming up or learning a new hand?

Spencerian – Fancy Pointed Pen for Beginners


Thinking about trying a flourished and fancy writing style to challenge your inner calligrapher? Have you tried any of the pointed pen styles? Well, there’s no need to freeze and panic like I did when I first started. If you’re excited about trying a formal style, like Spencerian or Copperplate, I’d suggest Spencerian. Once you begin this hand, you’ll discover Spencerian is not the easiest pointed pen style to learn, but if you’re a beginner looking for something fancy, I recommend it.

Before calligraphy class, I assumed Copperplate and Spencerian were the same, but they are very different. While writing in the Spencerian hand, the calligrapher must write gracefully holding the pointed pen light enough to show ink on the page. A heavy pen stroke throughout the word could confuse the style with Copperplate. The lowercase letters flow easy with a light touch, but the uppercase letters are a different matter. They demand more concentration with thin and thick lines similar to Copperplate, but with very different styling to characterize the hand.

The Spencerian hand originated in America in 1848 by Platt Rogers Spencer. He created a writing style that would be easier to use, faster to write, and more legible for business and education. Before the invention of typewriters in the early 20th century, students learned Spencerian as normal handwriting similar to the cursive writing that our school children learn today.

With the invention of the word processor, it seems like words are created at nearly the speed of light, so handwriting with a pen to paper shows care for its recipient. This is possibly why calligraphy has experienced a rise in popularity for formal occasions, like weddings and other exclusive engagements.

At first sight, the Spencerian hand looks intimidating with swirls and curls delicately surrounded with soft handwritten words. But, believe me; it’s easier to write than you think. If you practice the basics first, you’ll get the chance to improve your skill and dress up words with wildly ornate flourishes.

Spencerian is a beautiful hand to write, but I had a tough time trying to complete the uppercase letters. Uppercase lettering is important to learn because it provides the starting point to creating fabulous flourishes, but they require the most practice time compared to lowercase letters.

In my opinion, Spencerian is not a hand you want to learn alone. Of course, the lowercase letters are a snap to grasp, if cursive writing came easy as a child. But, the uppercase letters alone are worth spending time and money. In class, you receive instructor assistance and classmate encouragement, which helped me tremendously during my first practice hours.

For calligraphers who’ve practiced other pointed pen styles, working solo with an instructional video or book on how to write in Spencerian hand should be simple.

Now, stop reading, grab your pen and ink and give the Spencerian hand a try. If you’ve tried before, start practicing. You’ll fall in love with it all over again. And, for the beginner, once you’ve practiced for a week, you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Have you tried this hand before or one similar? Feel free to share your work. I’d like to see it.

Thinking About Italics?

With the end of my calligraphy class, I’ve started the summer with a chance to take on new projects and learn new styles. After reviewing a few hands from another calligraphy book, I’ve taken the joy in learning three styles that favor the italic hand. At first, I practiced all three in one weekend and then practiced each one every week. Right now, my art desk is covered with paper and a variety of pens in multiple-sized nibs.

The semi-casual italic styles I’m working with resembles the italic hand with a fun yet fancy flair and I’m sure they’d look great for addressing envelopes or even offer visual appeal in an art project. But, the entire process got me thinking about traditional italics. I wondered if I could actually still write this letter well.

Lately, I’ve tried traditional italics with my broad edge Parallel Pens and, I’m happy to report, I haven’t lost my touch.

During my calligraphy journey, the italic style was the first style I tried to see if I’d really enjoy writing the alphabet with a weird pen. But, during the 12-month period, I discovered my love/hate relationship with italics and by then, I was already hooked. A special bond developed with this style until I dropped it completely to focus on learning uncial, Copperplate and Spencerian during my calligraphy class.

Italic handwriting is possibly the best hand for any new calligrapher to learn. Obviously, most people think about italics when they think about calligraphy. It’s possible they’re envisioning a beautifully flourished italic word with its delicate slopes and broad edge lines.

Though modern–age technology replaced handwriting significantly in the early 20th century, italics is one hand that’s survived since the 15th century. This style developed in Italy and emerged in manuscripts and scrolls. Today, italic handwriting also graces scrolls, but it’s also found on certificates, invitations, signs, envelopes, as well as, art projects.

In my opinion, any novice calligrapher would enjoy learning italics. Compared to other hands, its broad edge lines are forgiving when it comes to those unavoidable mistakes. And, if you’re too nervous to invest in dip pens and nibs, a fountain pen set already complete with broad edge nibs and interchangeable color cartridges make it fun and easy to learn whether you’re 9 or 90.

You’ll enjoy the challenge and benefits italics bring if you join a class, or even if you learn solo. Believe me, with time and patience, you’ll see results.

When did you first learn calligraphy? Did you try italics or another lettering style?

Calligraphers Must Be the Best Recyclers


According to the EPA, Americans use over 85 million tons of paper products per year and we’re only recycling half that much annually. If you know anyone involved in the arts, it’s no doubt they’re using their fair share of paper for sketching, writing, or painting. In my opinion, they should be avid recyclers.

With the amount of paper calligraphers use for practice, we should be number one at recycling. Sketch artists and painters usually sketch lightly on a page, but normally keep it for the final project. On the other hand, calligraphers hone their skill by practicing several hours in an effort to maintain mastery of a lettering style; otherwise, they’ll lose the ability to create flawless lettering. When you think about it…that takes up a lot of paper!

During the school year, I compared my paper use with my children and wondered who uses more paper…them or me? While they’re using paper for homework, tests, art projects and plain old doodling, it’s not uncommon for me to use practice paper and sketch pads every week to perfect a certain letter styles or plan out an art project. While sitting at my art desk, I’ll pull sheet after sheet practicing and sketching layouts consuming more paper than I realize. It’s fun, but the paper’s piling up.

In an effort to save on costs and unnecessary paper consumption, I’ve tried writing on both sides of the paper. If you haven’t tried this before-take my advice-it’s not a good idea. Unfortunately, writing on the back poses problems depending on the prior ink used. When the ink dries, indents and bumps from lettering on the other side causes the nib to skip or rip up the paper. At best, it’s aggravating.

So, if I’m strictly using the paper for practicing styles, I’ll cover every inch of blank space with lettering, excluding the normal area for ascenders and descenders. As stacks pile up each week, I find this practice reduces excess paper use, though it’s still necessary to make room for new paper.

Over the years, I’ve managed to develop a large collection of practice sheets, so it’s time to organize and recycle them. Looking back, it’s not easy to let go of the hard work I put into those pages. It impresses me to see how much I’ve accomplished in my ability to create polished calligraphy letters, but now I’m prepared to let go.

As a compromise, I’ll keep the first two practice sheets from a new letter style, plus any doodling sheets for future inspiration. Everything else gets recycled. I promise.

Do you save your practice sheets or recycle them?

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